Three DVD's recently arrived from the U.K. prove beyond doubt that having a PAL player is a necessity.
Gomorrah (2008) Directed by Matteo Garrone
War movies and gangster flicks almost by definition tend to glamourize their subjects. There's truth in François Truffaut’s famous statement that you can’t make a war movie without making war look like fun. The glamour may be inadvertent but the results have tended to be the same. The allure of killing and lawlessness is an underlaying (if unintentional) theme of these genres.
Gomorrah is the exception. It succeeds in sucking every ounce of glamour out of gangster life and laying bare the misery and terror of the world’s most fearsome Mafia organization, the Neapolitan Camorra. The film is based on an expose by Roberto Saviano who’s currently under protective detail after receiving death threats from the mob. The film is both astounishing and gut wrenching partly because it lacks the intoxicating presence of a powerful central character. Gomorrah has no Tony Soprano, Tony Montana or Michael Corlone, but rather follows several story lines to their sordid and unhappy conclusions. A grim masterpiece that was passed over by the Oscars for reasons that I don't understand.
Hunger (2008) Directed by Steve McQueen (no not the dead one)
Hunger is the story of Bobby Sands, an IRA volunteer who initiated a 1981 hunger strike to protest his status as a common criminal and not a political prisoner at the Maze prison. This is another harrowing work that focuses less on the larger political context of the Irish conflict and more on the toll it took on the participants. Be warned that this film doesn't flinch or turn away from the incredible horror of watching someone starve to death. Actor Michael Fassbender delivers a haunting performance and a physical transformation reminiscent of Christian Bale's in The Machinist. Not for the squeamish but this is a powerhouse of a film.
Wallander (2008) BBC 3-part series.
Kurt Wallander is a brooding Swedish police detective played in this anglicized version of Henning Mankell's (the son-in-law of Ingmar Bergman) novels by a mesmerizing Kenneth Branagh. The stories are still set in Sweden but everyone has a Brit accent. There are several Swedish film adaptation of Mankell's books and a 2005 TV series but for whatever reason, the Beeb decided to put their own spin on the character. I'm sure glad they did. Branagh is outstanding and the cinematography and overall look of the show is the best I've seen them pull off. Barnagh was made for this role. He's gruff, exhausted and brooding (I'm guessing he took some obvious cues from Stellan Skarsgård's spellbinding turn in Insomnia (1997) because their characters are similar. I gather that the Swedish adaptations are even better and that makes them worth tracking down too.
All three of these DVD's were hugely grim but man o' man worth the effort to be sure.